Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer break

Hello, writerly, readerly, and/or teacherly friend. I'm taking a break until September in order to pursue things out in the wide world and bring back more experiences and insights! That means no posts in August, but here's what's to come in September:

~ A post on literary Atlanta
~ More attempts from - Turkish Delight & Treasure Hunts, by Jane Brocket

Till then, happy reading and writing and doing summery things (or making the most of whatever season it is wherever you are)!


Calvin: It's July already! Oh no! Oh no! What happened to June?! Summer vacation is slipping through our fingers like grains of sand! It's going too fast! We've got to hoard our freedom and have more fun! Time rushes on! Help! Help!

Hobbes: I don't think I want to be here at the end of August.

Calvin: Aaugh! It's a half-hour later than it was half an hour ago! Run! Run!

~ Bill Watterson

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Potter Party

This weekend, we've been celebrating a well-known Potter. Nope, not Harry. Beatrix! All in honor of Peter Rabbit's 110th anniversary.

The first time I ever paid close attention to Beatrix Potter's work was during the summer of 2009 on my study abroad semester with Hollins. We were to read her stories, examine her illustrations, and visit her old place at Hill Top. Here's the home she died in, Castle Cottage (furthest right) across from Hill Top:

After reading her complete tales, the following characters and images stood out from the rest, and they remain my favorites. First, the amiable guinea-pig, and second, the Christmas bunnies (photos are mine, but illustration rights belong to F. Warne & Co., a subsidiary of Penguin):

Though there's tons of Potter merchandise for celebrations of any kind, I thought her work would be best honored by keeping with her homely and natural themes, Lake District style. There are plenty of lakes north of us, but I knew of a very English seeming place, due to its monastery and chapel and grounds reminding me of many a cathedral in England. We packed a relatively elaborate picnic (not a full-on English basket, but one I was proud of!) and drove to the countryside just south of the city. There, we found a quiet place to have salad, fruit, goat cheese/triple berry/walnut sandwiches, and yogurt with honey, along with a few of our closest avian friends. And we even had a chance to buy vegetables from Fr. Anthony's garden.

The quiet celebration continued back home where, after a shower and a nap (it got very hot while we walked the grounds), I tried my hand at leaf stamping, an idea I got from the teacher's resources at With leaves gathered from the picnic site, I used acrylic paint to stamp out a bookmark to keep in memory of the nice day, and to stamp some notes to mail to a few friends.

The weekend was interrupted today by housecleaning, so we couldn't spend the entire day Pottering around. But we did find time to drive to a nearby park that's home to a farm (restored to its 1930s form, which may not seem like very long ago, but when you live in an area that's mostly shops and roads and neighborhoods, it's amazing to find an old farm surrounded by a nature preserve right in the middle of the madness). We took a hike in the hot sun and came across lots of creatures I think Beatrix would have been inspired by. The garden was closed today, but as sturdy as its fence looked, I can't help thinking a little bunny could get in if he really wanted to. (Getting back out again is the hard part. Just ask Peter.)

The celebrating finally ended with a spin through The Tale of Peter Rabbit interactive ebook (beautifully done), a dinner of Fr. Anthony's vegetables grilled alongside Jonathan's steak, and a just-sweet-enough dessert: Benjamin Bunny Banana Muffins, which are very banana-y and best warm with butter:

What a nice weekend. Lots of naturey things, lots of good food, and all thanks to dear Beatrix. Happy anniversary to Peter Rabbit and to mischief in general. Now until I can see those lakes again...
“Thank God I have the seeing eye, that is to say, as I lie in bed I can walk step by step on the fells and rough land seeing every stone and flower and patch of bog and cotton pass where my old legs will never take me again.” ~ Beatrix Potter

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My first interactive ebook experience

I probably would have stayed interactive-ebook ignorant if it weren't for Jonathan's new iPad. Before today, I'd sworn off anything that called itself a book but didn't have paper pages to prove it. A story is not a book. A book is just one possible way to transmit a story. But a story can be transmitted in other ways--like in the old days, by people, in the intermediate days, by paper, and in the new days, by pixels. Today, after much reluctance, and due to a realization that I can't avert my eyes forever, I had my first real experience with an interactive children's ebook, which, in my opinion, wasn't a children's story at all (see important note on pigeonholing below). It was Oliver Jeffers' The Heart and the Bottle.

The story, as with everything else of Jeffers' I've read or seen, is touching and quiet and full of beautifully simple, and therefore utterly universal, ideas and illustrations. This time, however, I could move some of the pictures around, and draw my own, and even make a scene go from sad to downright dark with the swipe of my hand. Fun! And I could read to myself or have Helena Bonham Carter read the story to me, which was quite a treat. It took me several read-throughs to figure out what the story was saying, though. Up to then, I'd been too busy playing with the pictures and listening to Helena's pretty accent. On the third read, I finally got down to the message, which I found would be completely incomprehensible to every child I've ever known, even those with bottled-up hearts. That said, I've loved plenty of stories I couldn't understand, some even more than the ones I could understand (enter Alice), and children pull things from stories we wouldn't expect, so it doesn't really mean anything when someone stamps an age range on a tale like this. I suggest we ignore any attempts we might come across.

After Jeffers, I did more research and checked out a couple more books (the Alice one is very pretty with its Tenniel illustrations), but in the end, it was all just shaking and swiping and touching a screen, or watching a video clip or playing a mini-game. So, the experience was fun, but not amazingly fun, even though it was a story written by one of my all-time favorite author/illustrators. None of the things I came across, in my opinion, were as exciting, interactive, or versatile as print books can be, particularly those known as movable books: the pop-ups, the flip-books, the old-school tunnel books, and a bunch more, like the peepshow book I saw at the V&A Museum of Childhood and the more accessible Goldilocks one at a bookshop in Cambridge:

There's even an official Movable Book Society! (Click here for an exhibition the Smithsonian had all about paper engineering and here for tons of info and images at the UNT Libraries and here if you wanna buy some beautiful old movable books of your own.) Beyond those, you've got the scratch-and-sniff, all those tactile books (one of my particular favorites is The Black Book of Colors; click here for info on some award-winning international tactile books), the choose your own adventure, and even books that seem to do it all, like the Ology Series.

I'll admit the interactive Jeffers was fun in its own way. Really anything with Jeffers' illustrations involved would make me happy. But I guess what I'm getting at (a conclusion I'm sure lots of people before me have already come to) is that interactive stories aren't new and aren't even as interactive or necessarily interesting as paper books. They're just another in a long line of innovative ways to connect people with stories. It seems in this case, the important thing isn't what they are, but where they are: in the hands of countless kids across the world looking to handheld screens for fulfillment and entertainment . . . at least some of the time.